Celeborn, Thranduil and a Potential Tree
An article on familial kinship
By all manner of gale and tempest might a tree wither, but as the blood of kin do its roots remain unchanging.
|Artwork by “h-muroto” on deviantArt|
Why does a cat go to assuage his curiosity when that curiosity just might get him killed? Because the end result can be very rewarding in what he discovers, no matter all the trials and efforts he underwent to discover it (so the cat must think, anyway).
Celeborn and Thranduil are two well recognized Elven-lords and are the source of much fan art and literature. Among the Tolkien fanbase of those who write fanfiction or converse through participation in Tolkien-related forums, there appears to be an underlying consideration that Celeborn and Thranduil just might possibly be related by blood. But the generally unspoken question remains hanging in the air and most people seem to not either care enough to look into the subject further, or are afraid of trying to.
And so I became curious. Are they related? I confess that I was once one of the people who was afraid to toy with the notion of Celeborn and Thranduil being (most likely) cousins, mostly because of the outrage it causes when people go to insinuate that they have a familial kinship. Are people truly so disgusted by the mere possibility that they might be related? It appears so, as much as it appears fans would rather keep any pretenses of similarities between them outside of the realm of probability.
But I decided enough was enough and it was time to discover just how probable this possibility was. No direct canonical evidence exists to either support or dismiss the idea of Celeborn and Thranduil being family, however distant, but as aforementioned in the previous post, Tolkien doesn’t provide all the answers we want on a platter. This is one puzzle where the facts must be found and put together, and the facts taken from Tolkien lore just might surprise some people.
To start, this evaluation of the relationship between Celeborn and Thranduil is written in the acknowledgement of Tolkien’s rejection of the concept of Celeborn being a Linda of Valinor, or to use a description more commonly recognized, Celeborn being one of the Teleri who originated in Alqualondë with the Quenya rendition of his name Teleporno. In all ends, Tolkien solidified Celeborn’s origins in being an Elf of Doriath. And as a place to start, we must wait awhile before looking at Thranduil and instead go back a branch in the family tree to his father, Oropher. If Thranduil is indeed related to Celeborn, then Oropher was as well. And now with the first bout of evidence:
Princes of Sindarin Origin:
In the Beleriandic society of the First Age, only very few Elves were endowed with the title of “prince”. Now, as in the case of Faramir, “prince of Ithilien”, the term prince is intermittently used as an honorary title where the person may be of high and noble birth, but not of the royal family. In the case of Elves, however, it is far more commonly reserved only for those members of the royal family, something proven in the case of Celeborn. Tolkien repeatedly attaches to the Elf-lord's name “prince of Doriath” and, as Elu Thingol’s great-nephew, Celeborn really is a member of the royal House of Elwë.
Oropher: Though Oropher (and by default Thranduil) is, as generally known, of Sindarin origin, Tolkien considered his identity delicate enough as to place and discuss him in a segment of restricted content dedicated only to the “Sindarin Princes of Silvan Elves”. And what Tolkien writes should not be dismissed lightly: “Oropher had come among [the Silvan Elves] with only a handful of Sindar, and they were soon merged with the Silvan Elves, adopting their language and taking names of Silvan form and style. This they did deliberately; for they came from Doriath after its ruin and had no desire to leave Middle-earth, nor to be merged with the other Sindar of Beleriand, dominated by the Noldorin Exiles for whom the folk of Doriath had no great love. They wished indeed to become Silvan folk and to return, as they said, to the simple life natural to the Elves before the invitation of the Valar had disturbed it.”emphasis mine
So, we have Celeborn and Oropher both princes of Sindarin origin and both coming from Doriath. Let’s keep going.
As a side interest for this particular topic, I want to include Amdír into the equation in being related to Celeborn, particularly since C. Tolkien acknowledged the insinuation of possible kinship between Thranduil and Amdír’s son Amroth. For those who might have difficulty remembering, Amdír was a lord of the Elves who traveled beyond the Misty Mountains with Oropher and Thranduil and their entourage at the beginning of the Second Age and, whereas Oropher became King of the Silvan Elves of Greenwood the Great, Amdír was the one who traveled south and found the Nandorin Elves of Lórinand (renamed Lothlórien when Celeborn and Galadriel took over the guardianship). Amdír became King of Lórinand and died at the Battle of the Last Alliance, thusly passing the kingship of the Nandor down to his son Amroth. Despite the unimportance of including him, it’s of interest to note that Amdír is also “a prince of Sindarin origin”.
Furthermore, it might be significant to note that Celeborn, Oropher, and Amdír (and Thranduil, certainly) all possess an inherent lordship that few outside of the royally born (or highborn, by a stretch) would possess. All are Lords among the Eldar. Celeborn proves many times capable of ruling and leading and eventually rules his own realm of Lothlórien in the Third Age. And both Oropher and Amdír became Kings of the Wood-elves of their respective forests. The art of governing and kingship, in those days, were not taught to and learned by a mere nobody.
Now, one might argue (fairly) that the evidence of Celeborn, Oropher and Amdír being princes of Doriath is not enough evidence to suggest familial kinship, even though the only way to be a “prince” is to be a member of the royal family. Yes, the aforementioned evidence creates the possibility, but it’s still too vague. Okay, so more evidence, stronger evidence, is needed.
The Importance of Names in Celeborn’s Family:
From the start, no matter what presumption or theory, it is strictly safe to declare that Oropher has no place in Elwë’s (Thingol’s) family tree, as Tolkien clarified without doubt who was who in Elwë’s family, due to the importance they play in the narrative. The same can be said with Olwë, as he removed to Aman at the very beginning of the story. And while that may look to eliminate all of Celeborn’s family to place Oropher in, Tolkien still leaves one other person to lean on: Elmo, the younger brother of Elwë and Olwë who loved Elwë so greatly that he remained with him in Beleriand instead of crossing the Great Sea with Olwë and the Lindar (name of the Teleri in Aman). Elmo, the head of Celeborn’s family. But the family is not so much important as is the translation of their names.
[The meaning of Elven names is definitively important in Tolkien’s world, as the ‘language’ and the ‘literature’ are so closely interwoven. Now, when it comes to the translation of the names Tolkien never provided us a direct translation for, always be aware of the 1% room for error and uncertainty. C. Tolkien said that tracing the history of the narrative was enormously easier than figuring out the “astounding complexity of the phonological and grammatical evolution of Elvish languages.” So yes, always 1% room for error. Tolkien’s narrative is essentially a large compilation of accounts of loremasters, and thusly the languages interwoven with that history are not a simple historical fact to find, but an unstable view of what that history was. And to further the possibility of error in translating names, the outer conceptions of Elvish languages underwent change, sometimes profound, as the “old” transformed into the present languages utilized by Elves. This is not something of concern, but always there is that 1% room for error.]
ELMO: Elmo was one of the Elves who Awoke at Cuiviénen. No direct translation of his name was provided by Tolkien (indeed, only a few names of Elves at Cuiviénen can be translated, due to the provisionary lack of lessons on the archaic structure of Primitive Quendian, first language of the Elves). If a translation of Elmo’s name is attempted, the most accurate meaning is probably “enthralled by stars” (which is appropriate, considering he Awoke beneath the stars, the first things he ever saw; “their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight.”).
· EL- “star”, its meaning in every dialect (Cf. Eldar = “people of the stars”; Elentári = Quenya “Star Queen”; Elrond = Sindarin “star-dome”)
· MO- “slave, thrall”, a derivative taken from the root MŌ (Cf. mólanoldor ~ the Noldor enslaved by Morgoth)
His name is unimportant to the point being made due to his existence at Cuiviénen, but then Elmo had a son named:
GALADHON: literally meaning “trees”, his name being the plural of the Sindarin noun’s singular “galadh” (Cf. Caras Galadhon = “City of the Trees” in Lothlórien). And then Galadhon had two sons: Celeborn and Galathil.
CELEBORN: meaning “silver-tree” (In Celeborn the suffix -orn was common Doriathrin for “tree”).
GALATHIL: meaning “silver-tree”. [It may raise a question as to accuracy in that Celeborn’s and Galathil’s names both have the same meaning, but different spellings. But according to “The Etymologies” Galathil’s name is structured more in adherence to the language of Sindarin while Celeborn’s was constructed with the older dialect of Doriathrin.]
· GALA- “tree”, taken from the singular noun “galadh”, and an honorary inherence from his father’s name.
· THIL- “silver sheen”, the adjective in the First Age being the root for Ithil, a poetic name for the Moon, but its more literal meaning is “silver-colored substance” (Cf. Galathilion ~ a Sindarin name for Telperion, Elder of the Two Trees)
Galathil then had a daughter:
NIMLOTH: the wife of Dior Eluchíl, her names means “white blossom”.
In these name translations, can there be detected any specific pattern? Yes: Elmo’s descendants all have noticeable tree-names. And Tolkien made it a point of fact that all of “Celeborn’s close kin had ‘tree-names’.”
And lo and behold! What does “Oropher” mean?
OROPHER: A literal translation is “high beech-tree”. What do you know? Another tree-name.
· ORO- “high”, a base-meaning of the adjective root RŌ (Cf. Orthanc = “Mount Fang”; orthad = Sindarin gerund for “to rise”)
· PHER- “beech-tree”, the stem originating from Primitive Quendian and found nearly identical to Old Noldorin “pheren” and Quenya “feren”, which carry the same meaning.
AMDÍR: (thrown in for good measure, however unrelated he might be to this objective) a finalized translation would be something like “adult elm-tree”…Interesting – another tree-name.
· AM- “elm-tree”, the derivative of the Danian stem “álam” (the root al- was later added)
· DÍR- “adult male”, the surviving proper adjective of the archaic root “dîr” in Old Sindarin.
THRANDUIL: It is commonly known that his name translates to "vigorous spring" among the fandom, which fits in with this very supposition, but there is a further possibility as to the meaning of his name. With Thranduil it gets interesting, and this is because with that second possibility he himself breaks away from the pattern of being bestowed a “tree-name”. But not for no reason, I suspect. His name was also, personally, the most difficult to dissect and generate some idea of its translation (here’s where that 1% room of doubt can enter in particularly, I suppose). As close as I can get it, the finalized translation of Thranduil’s name is something along the lines of “to go across/beyond all rivers”. Thranduil actually has a prophetic name, and this is rare among Elves. So while in this he broke the practice of tree-names, it’s legit to say it was with reason, as he was given a greater name than a traditional tree-name. But Thranduil picked it up again with his son Legolas, which all know means “Greenleaf”.
· THRAN- the beginning of the name is composed of two Sindarin roots: thar- “across, beyond” and ran- “wander, stray” (Cf. Tharbad = “?Crossway”; Mithrandir = “Grey wanderer/pilgrim”)
· DUI- “river, water”, derivative of Beleriandic noun “duin” (Cf. Anduin = “Great River”; Baranduin = “The Brandywine”; Bruinen = “Loudwater”: all rivers found in Middle-earth)
· IL- “all”, Sindarin derivative of root “ilu”, which means “universe” (Cf. Ilúvatar = Quenya “All-father”)
[The complexity of the names of Celeborn, Oropher and Amdír is a plausible testament to those Elves’ possible “old age”, for the roots of their names are either archaic in form or originate in the pre-existent linguistic structures of Primitive Quendian (the common tongue before the sundering of kin), at the time when the language began to mutate into presently spoken Quenya and Sindarin.]
So, Galadhon means “trees”, Celeborn “silver-tree”, Galathil “silver-tree”, Nimloth “white blossom”, Oropher “high beech-tree”, Amdír “adult elm-tree”…that is a lot of tree-names for Elves coincidentally titled “princes of Sindarin origin” (with the exception of Nimloth, who is bestowed the title “princess”). And let it be remembered that, according to Tolkien, the kinsmen of Celeborn had tree-names. It is canon word for word.
But someone might further argue, “Names aren’t a big deal. It’s just a coincidence.” Well, though Tolkien might have a thing or two to say about that, fine. “Princes of Sindarin origin” and “tree-names” isn’t enough to be convincing. Okay, fine. Let’s bring in even more evidence.
It is within logic to presume that Oropher belongs somewhere in the Elwë-Elmo-Olwë genealogy chart, not just because of aforementioned canon, but also because of two lines in The Fellowship of the Ring. The first line comes from Legolas, when he protests being blindfolded while entering Lothlórien: “I am an Elf and a kinsman here.” In my studies of Tolkien’s narrative, I’ve gradually noticed how very careful Tolkien is, not only applying words, but also when applying “kin, kinsman, and kindred” to his creations. By my own reckoning, Tolkien generally used “kindred” in reference to Race (as in Elves, Dwarves, Men, Valar, etc.), and he used “kin” in reference to one’s relation to each race (like Aragorn at the Argonath, naming the Númenóreans his “kin” by virtue that they were of the same Race, not family. Thusly also comes the base definition of “Kinslaying” or why the Amanian Elves might say their “sundered kin” when referring to the Elves in Beleriand). And then, Tolkien uses “kinsman” to indicate actual blood relatives. (Nimloth, niece of Celeborn, is “kinswoman to Celeborn”. Círdan is the “kinsman of Thingol and Olwë.”)
Now, Tolkien was not perfect with this as there was a notable (but not major) lack in consistency when applying these three terms. But if we dare apply such inconsistency, then in “I am an Elf and a kinsman here”, since Legolas has already clarified that he is, indeed, an Elf, it appears a tad illogical to interpret “kinsman” in reference to “Race” or “fellow Elf”, as he would then be saying “I am an Elf and an Elf here” in place of “I am an Elf and a kinsman here.”
The second line of significance is in second part of Lord Celeborn’s greeting to Legolas: “Too seldom do my kindred journey hither from the North.” Now, here is a glimpse of Tolkien’s rare inconsistency. So this quote may seem contradictory, since Tolkien generally uses “kindred” to mean “race”. But in this particular sentence, such an inference makes little sense as the word is prefaced by “my”. It should be considered rather interesting and telling that Celeborn uses a possessive when referring to “kindred”. If “kindred” is intended with its literal definition in this greeting, then one would expect Celeborn to say, “Too seldom do *our* kindred journey hither from the North.” Recall also what Haldir spoke as he led the Company through the eaves of Lothlórien: “Even our own kindred in the North are sundered from us.”emphasis mine (in reference to the Silvan Wood-elves, opposed to Nandorin Wood-elves) In the book, unlike the movie, Celeborn was surrounded by Elves as the Company was presented to the Lord and Lady. And being so surrounded by fellow Elves, it’s rather peculiar of him to single himself out by saying “my kindred” instead of “our kindred”, as Haldir did. From such a careful phrase alone, to me at least, the only insinuation here is a shared, unidentified relationship between Celeborn and Legolas.
So, that then leaves the ultimate question: how? How are Celeborn and Oropher (and thus Thranduil) related? It has already been ruled out that Oropher could be among Elwë’s or Olwë’s immediate family tree, Oropher (and Amdír) has a name that fits the tree-name pattern of Elmo’s descendants when no other family has these roots. And on top of that, all of them are princes of Sindarin origin, all coming from Doriath. And as a side note, one should not dismiss the rather paramount fact that Oropher has Vanyarin heritage somewhere in his blood, for Thranduil is described to have “golden hair” (and only those with Vanyarin blood have golden hair). So: status of prince, inherent lordship, Sindarin origin, home in Doriath, name involving a tree….It is difficult to see how one could not at least be persuaded to consider the rather convicting possibility of unmentioned blood relations.
|Artwork by "knotty-inks" on deviantArt|
How could Oropher fit in Celeborn’s family tree? At the best, they are cousins of some sort. And really, creating plausible connections on the tree to confirm blood ties through being cousins is open to a whole array of speculation. In such theorizing, nothing is iron-clad. But the saving grace from such a blockade is the very real probability that Tolkien left a child out of the mentioning, probably a second child of Elmo. Tolkien initially created Elmo’s individual family tree as an afterthought in order to prove Celeborn’s close kinship with Thingol, since Tolkien wanted to make such blood-relations absolutely clear.
And all the names mentioned were important to the narrative: Celeborn, for reasons we know, and Galathil because of his daughter Nimloth wedding Dior, Thingol’s heir. And for those who have studied Tolkien’s lore intensively, one would notice how Tolkien appears to have had the habit of being a little disorganized in the introduction of characters’ names and families. It’s in a sense of, “The Elf was named‘this’ and he did blah blah blah. Oh! And he had a sister! Oh! And she married somebody too.” While all names are legit in their placement and meaning, there is a sense in the narrative that they were introduced when it was their turn to “pop up” in the story. And only those names of some measure of importance were mentioned. Naming another child of Elmo purely for the sake of identifying close kinship between Celeborn and Thranduil (a familial relationship not even necessary to know for anything) would have been unimportant when placed on the grand scale of Tolkien’s world.
So, are Celeborn and Thranduil related? It’s up to you to decide. There is that always present 1% room for doubt, but with all the “hints and innuendos” Tolkien gave us it would be difficult for one to endeavor to disprove they are related. Oropher (and even Amdír), in some way, is part of Elmo’s family tree, and thusly is Thranduil then (younger) cousin to Celeborn. Tolkien does not provide detail on the connections of a family structure and how they are related for everybody, for even Eöl is confirmed to be a kinsman of Thingol, yet Tolkien never clarifies how.
But the very concept of Celeborn and Thranduil being related by blood and the evidence provided to support it is one further scrap of evidence that Tolkien did not want to provide all the answers on a platter. Let his readers be open minded and work to discover the answers for themselves.
1. The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and of Amroth King of Lórien UT.244
2. Appendix B, the Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves UT.272
3. Amroth and Nimrodel UT.255
4. Appendix A, the Silvan Elves and Their Speech UT.269
5. HoME The Etymologies V.377
6. The Battles of the Fords of Isen UT.378
7. Of the Coming of Elves Silm.48
8. Appendix E, the Names of Celeborn and Galadriel UT.279
9. The Silmarillion “Index of Names”
10. LotR Lothlórien I.362
11. LotR The Mirror of Galadriel I.370
12. Of Maeglin Silm.133
13. HoME Last Writings – Círdan XII.387